In many Latin American countries, where mestizaje reigns supreme, many ask “Where’s your Grandma?” to people trying to hide their black heritage. But here in the U.S., the reverse is true, writes columnist Dolores Prida in El Diario La Prensa. Many Latinos hide or ignore their white Spanish ancestry. The piece was translated from Spanish.
Before this so-called “Hispanic Heritage Month” is over, I want to try — not sure how successfully and at the risk of falling into the politically incorrect abyss — to delve into the conflict many of us face celebrating our Spanish cultural roots.
Many Latinos reject this celebration because for them it represents the destruction and pillage of the indigenous civilizations that the Spanish empire wrecked upon the Americas.
True. But not all Latinos are descendants of the Incas, the Mayas or the Guaraní who inhabited these lands before Columbus arrived with his three little ships, nor of the African slaves that later they brought in chains in many other little ships to work the fields.
Just like many millions of other Latin Americans, my great-grandparents were immigrants from Spain. They came to Cuba for economic reasons, in search of opportunities for a better future, since in their villages in Asturias and the Canary Islands, they were dirt poor.
To me, this is neither good nor bad. It’s just a fact. But this is a fact that many keep hidden or forgotten in the back of the closet once we arrive in the United States, where the concept of ethnic or racial identity is confusing, distorted, rinsed and spinned.
Here, all Latinos are labeled as minorities, an ethnic group and some people, including many Latinos, believe that “Hispanic” is a race, regardless of the color of our skin.
In Latin America they do not celebrate the “discovery” of America. Even in Spain they now call it “a meeting of two worlds.” In Latin America they call October 12, the “Día de la raza” (Day of the Race), which has nothing to do with skin color. In Spanish, “raza” also means a group of people, a breed, and can be used as, for example “a raza of champions” referring to a soccer team, etc.
That why you may hear some Latinos, particularly Mexicans, say ¡Viva la raza! to signify Hurray for my peeps!
In 1925, the Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos wrote about the racial and cultural diversity of Latin America which includes indigenous, European, and African heritages, as a positive power that could rescue humanity from hate and division and called it “the cosmic race.”
But many Latinos, once they come here, or even those who were born here, tend to reject their own diversity, especially the white Spaniard part represented by their great- or great-great-grandparents and the contributions of the “Mother Country” (Spain) to our culture. Some even can’t stand listening to anyone who speaks with the Castilian hissing z.
I’d suggest that some of those young Latinos that do not know their multiple cultural roots, to make the effort to visit Spain. It is an unforgettable experience to discover that many things we believed were Cuban or Colombian or Ecuadorian are, in fact, Spanish. That’s what I experienced when I visited the Canary Islands the first time. I had that sense of déjà vu, that feeling of I know this place, I belong here, somehow. I felt completed.
We’re not responsible for what our ancestors did. It’s time to accept and appreciate what they bequeathed to us: our very existence. If we truly aspire to be the cosmic race wherever we are, we need to let our Canarian great-grandma or our Galician great-great-grandfather out of the closet and stop apologizing for them or pretend that they never existed.
Hurray for diversity!